Rainbow Falls NC is an beautiful and majestic waterfall located deep inside Pisgah National Forest, near Sapphire, NC. This waterfall will make an impression as it’s over 150 foot tall, and it’s flow is heavy, especially after a recent rain storm.
Rainbow Falls is clearly visible from a multiple overlooks located on a popular trail, and if you’re brave, you can even climb down to the base where there is also a nice swimming hole.
Roundtrip Distance: 3.0 mile roundtrip
Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous
Features: Majestic and tall Waterfall, Swimming Hole, dense wood hiking, creekside hiking
Directions: The trailhead begins in Gorges State Park, located off Highway 281 South near Sapphire NC. From Brevard, NC, take 64 South, turn left onto 281 South. The Gorges State Park will be on your left. Follow the road to the very back parking lot (Grassy Ridge). The address for the Gorges State Park visitor center is: 976 Grassy Ridge Rd, Sapphire, NC 28774.
Recommended Gear: Good hiking boots or shoes, Daypack, Dayhiker First Aid Kit, Sunscreen, some snacks, plenty of water, Water shoesand a bathing suit if you think you might want to swim or slide.
Rainbow Falls NC
Rainbow Falls is tall, and absolutely gorgeous. As you hike up the Rainbow Falls Trail, at about 1.5 miles, you’ll see and hear this amazing waterfall to your left. There is a heavy fence along the trail, where you can get very clear views of the falls, and the large rock cliffs the water falls down. If you continue past the fence, a small trail leading the left will take you down to an observation deck.
The fall receives it’s name from the rainbow that can often be seen early in the morning as the sunrises, but depending on the conditions, can also be seen later in the morning as well.
The base of Rainbow Falls is accessible, but not by any formal trails. There are a few unofficial trails both before and after the fence, and from the observation deck. Be careful though, the trails are steep and slick. At the base of the falls though, you’ll be rewarded with a unique view of the falls, spray from the water as it plummets down over the side of the cliff more than 150 feet, and lots of places to just sit, relax and enjoy the sites and sounds.
This areas is a popular swimming location, so they’ll generally be lots of people at the bottom during the summer. The current can be a pretty strong in a few places, so only strong swimmers should swim.
If you’re feeling really brave, you can also continue hiking up past and above the falls. There are again unofficial trails that lead to the top of the fall, that offer amazing views.
BUT the rocks can be very slippery, and if the water is high, it can be very dangerous. We saw people right at the very top, on the edge – I had to look away. There have been people killed here falling, so be smart. We chose to not risk it. But here’s a videographer that did:
Getting to Rainbow Falls
The trail up to Rainbow Falls is the Rainbow Falls trail. The trail begins at the Grassy Ridge Parking lot of Gorges State Park. Just look for the area at the end of the parking lot with all of the information boards. The trail is blazed orange and blue to begin with.
You’ll begin a steady decline downward into the forest of Gorges State Park. The trail splits after a short distance. Continue right on Rainbow Falls trail, blazed orange. There are a few smaller trails that branch off here and there, just continue onto the falls by following the main (wide) trail. You’ll pass a marker indicating you are leaving Gorges State Park. This is nothing to be concerned about, as you’ll continue your hike into Pisgah National Forest to the falls.
At the 1.5 mile mark, you’ll see the fence that provides a beautiful view of Rainbow Falls. You can continue past here. On up the trail another .25 miles (take the right trail that goes up past the fence) is Turtleback Falls, a popular sliding rock and swimming hole.
On your way back to the trailhead, after you come down the stairs past the fence at Rainbow Falls, you’ll see a trail go to the right out to some boulders. If you walk out that trail, there is a really nice small waterfall to your right, and a great place to swim and enjoy the water below the falls.